25/04 : Río Almanzora & Vera

Dave and the Arboleas group had yet another good day's birding, lucky devils. Mine is restricted to the garden from the terrace as I am having great knee problems and rationing time out because of after effects. It's called envy in simple English!

Thankfully the high winds of the past ten days had subsided somewhat as Gilly and I supped thermos coffee overlooking the Rio Almanzora rambla waiting for the other members of the Arboleas Birding Group to arrive. We observed 16 Red-billed Choughs, overflying Bee-eaters and a Spotted Flycatcher in an eucalyptus tree. Luckily the others all saw them as well. Eventually twelve of us sauntered along the embankment towards the desalination plant. The bushes and shrubs were busy with what could possibly be a "fall" of small migrants. Prettiest was a male Common Redstart, initially spotted by Brian. Both Spotted and Pied Flycatchers were seen, some of the later had the iberiae subspecies larger white forehead spot. Also seen were Iberian Chiffchaff, a Spectacled Warbler and  a possible Western Olivaceous (Isabelline) Warbler. There were a few Pallid and Common Swifts, plus Barn Swallow and House Martin. Not the numbers of previous weeks. Some Red-rumped Swallows appeared to be very interested in a culvert set into the concrete embankment. On the wader front we saw many Black-winged Stilts and small numbers of Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers. We had singles of Green and Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint. A Nightingale was heard and Colin did manage a brief view. Reed Warblers and Zitting Cistacolas  were also heard. On the way back a Great Spotted Cuckoo gave us good views. Before we departed for coffee a Snipe made an appearance.
Down on the beach we saw a couple of Whimbrel, a Greenshank and a couple of Cormorants. Further along at the brackish pool was a Redshank, Ringed Plover and a Dunlin. We also saw Audouin's Gull, Grey Heron and Little Egret.
We then headed for Vera, stopping at the dual carrigeway overlooking the shallow lake.  We counted at least 25 Whiskered Terns quartering the water. Also added to the day list were Little Grebe, Common Pochard, Cattle Egret and Black-headed Gull.
     At the pool opposite the Consum supermarket Brian, Mary, Dave & Myrtle arrived first and saw a pair of Little Bitterns before we got there. White-headed Duck and Common Pochard were resplendent in their breeding finery. As we departed for lunch Gilly and I heard a Great Reed Warbler
     Very good days birding. No raptors at all. Even so 59 species in all.


21/04 : double entry - laguna Dulce & Fuente de Piedra; Sierra María

A double entry this afternoon, both from yesterday. First a quickie of my own with Federico to the laguna Dulce and Fuente de Piedra, the second, which I have seen after starting my own, is one from Dave E-B to the Sierra María.

Also, before reading on, my thanks to Clive for suggseting how to deal with the downloading problem. A friend who knows about these things is going to attack it this coming week as I, like a certain animal, am '...a bear of very little brain'.

FEDERICO & SELF : Laguna Dulce & Fuente de Piedra
An early start with Federico meant that we were at the laguna Dulce (Campillos) by 09.00 and things augured well as in the final 3 kms before arriving a pair of Montagu's Harriers overflew and we saw a Little Owl sitting high up on a telegraph pol, whilst later we saw a Common Buzzard. Plenty of ducks still, although numbers have Red-headed Pochard have definitely fallen.
There was a decent scattering of ducks of various species, all relatively common, and there were noteworthy numbers of Black-necked Grebes, very bonny in their breeding plumage. At least 4-5 Whiskered Terns quartered the lake and there was some movement of lazy flying of Gull-billed Terns while a pair of Black Terns which disappeared rapidly, no doubt fed-up of dodging the fast moving Common Swifts and hirundines, something which did not bother the single Glossy Ibis.
Scanning across the fields at the back to the sound of a Nightingale trying a few exploratory phrases and the chuntering of a Great Reed Warbler, we found at least 3 Little Bustards, including a male which displayed briefly for Federico.
From there it was on to Fuente de Piedra and spotting 3 Black Kites and a female Marsh Harrier on the way. The lake is drying out very rapidly and I doubt if there were 100 Greater Flamingos present in total. In fact, all the close range action is of waders on both sides of the board walk and on the large flooded flash on the left as one drives in where there are also some ducks.
If my notes are correct (always dubious), we saw no less than 12 species. Discounting the resident breeding Stilts, Avocets and the very few Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, the remaining 8 were migrants all feeding very busily and refuelling as these birds are the ones that will go furthest north up beyond the Arctic Circle by the end of May. These included fair numbers of Redshanks, somewhere in the region of 20 Ruffs (above L), some Curlew Sandpipers - some of which were starting to show their beautiful breeding plumage, a trio of Dunlin which had obviously found some soot in which to sit, 20+ Little Stints, a pair of Sanderlings which never fail to fool me as theirs breeding pluamge is so different to the winters and, finally, a pair of Wood Sandpipers, one of which was a real stunner in full breeding plumage (R).
I reckon that the flashes around the board walk area should be good for waders for about anohter 10 days, in spite of them having shrunk considerably.

DAVE E-B : Sierra de María
This is what happens when Dave is left on his own ..... and I don't blame him one little bit!
Gilly, having advanced in her yoga sessions, was on a weekend retreat. (is that a contradiction in terms?) I took the opportunity to visit the Sierra de Maria on my own to attempt to hone my camera skills.
After a coffee at the Repsol garage cafe in the town, I headed up towards the chapel and the Botanical Garden. On the journey to Maria I'd already seen Black Wheatear, Crag Martin and a Kestrel amongst others. I disturbed a large flock of Goldfinches and Chaffinches on the almonds trees as I approached the chapel car park. I wandered over towards the water trough where I was rewarded with a male Common Redstart in full breeding plumage sitting on the waters edge. In the large bush near the poplar tree was a pair of singing Nightingales.
     Walking up towards the Information Centre, a flight of 15 Bee-eaters flew over. There were two male Stonechats and a single female on the shrubs ( It'll all end in tears!). Also seen were a pair of Cirl Buntings and some very obliging Long-tailed Tits. I got to the Centre at 09.55hrs....Due to open at 10.00hrs. Managed to see Crossbill and Rock Bunting before someone turned up at 10.13 precisely...not that I was clock watching.....much!      
I was on my own round the gardens and middle walk so I could take my time. Had good views of Crested Tit, Bonelli's Warbler, Subalpine Warbler and Short-toed Treecreeper but alas no sight or sound of Melodious or Western Orphean Warblers yet. There was another pair of Stonechat there as well. A few Griffon Vulture silently drifted overhead.
I then headed for the La Piza recreation area. A Woodlark was again on the football goalposts. I parked next to a small puddle where I saw Crested Tit and Crossbill drinking from on my arrival. I ate my lunch, but the birds weren't thirsty enough to venture back.
 I then headed home and then to a belated Golden Wedding Anniversary party at Dave and Myrtle's house. Congratulations to them.


18/04 : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

I trust that some of you managed to get to see the Cream-coloured Courser at Tarifa these last few days, which appears to have hopped it - undoubtedly largely due to the presence of loose, uncontrolled dogs whose owners refuse to think that signs do not refer to them. Also, the first Little Swifts have returned to Bolonia. My birding friend Federico, who has appeared in these blogs before, saw both last weekend and was a very happy chap whilst I believe that I am probably the only birder from west of Málahga who did not make the pilgrimage down there to see it, but I have seen quite a few in years gone by, and to prove it here is a photo taken on Fuerteventura.
Thank heavens for Dave & Co. filling in the information gap whilst I have been under the weather.

This week we decided to head back to Cabo de Gata, then Rambla Morales. Chris kindly chauffeured us down there in his snazzy Mercedes, making a more comfortable change to the 4x4!! We met up with Brian, Mary, Colin, Sandra, Dave and Myrtle at the Pujaire cafe before making our way to the first hide.
Amongst the many Avocets were three Oystercatchers, not common in these parts. We also saw a Black-tailed Godwit in breeding finery, Grey Plover, Greenshank and Kentish Plover. A Turnstone flew over. Also spotted was a single Collared Pratincole. Smaller birds included Northern Wheatear, singing Corn Buntings, Yellow Wagtails and Zitting Cistacolas.
Arriving at the beach adjacent to the second hide, the sea was quite rough due to the offshore westerly winds. Was hoping a shearwater or two might have been blown closer to shore, but alas no. We did see a distant adult Gannet and a fishing Sandwich Tern. Another Northern Wheatear was spotted before we walked to the hide. Large feeding groups of Slender-billed Gulls were observed, but Colin was the first to spot eight Purple Herons, high above us, flying east. Four Little Terns were also seen. At the public hide we added Black-necked Grebe and Kestrel. A Godwit kindly flew off, confirming it to be a Bar-tailed. A Blackcap was also seen.
We then headed to the Rambla Morales via the campsite. Tacking against the high winds we headed towards the lake. Dave spotted a Hoopoe. I was checking a group of swifts/martins when I spotted a single Little Swift. It was keeping low and it came quite close. I was extremely lucky enough to get a reasonably decent photo of it. Lifer for seven of the group! We carried on towards the lake, adding Little Ringed Plover, White-headed Duck, Coot, Moorhen and some more Black-necked Grebes, struggling in the choppy waters. Enough was enough, we headed back and Brian, bringing up the rear, saw a Whiskered Tern.
54 species in all. Todays sighting of the Little Swift makes it 28 days since I first spotted the three individuals on the 23rd March!


14/04 : P.N. Guadalhorce

I was going to write this yesterday, Sunday, but yesterday turned out to be one of the most bio-disagreable days I have experienced in many a day and writing two consecutive words that made sense was totally impossible. But today, having accompanied the alpha female of the household to the hospital and discovering that an appointment for '09.15 (apróx.)' meant 12.10, and therefore having spent the morning sitting and reading with an occasional word of encouragement to said alpha female, I feel better.

Which brings me to a plea for help/advice before gettting to the birding. Can anyone out there explain (preferably with a remedy and in words of one syllable) why I was unable to download the photos from the camara through the normal cable from camera to USB slot? It's as though the laptop has decided not to read the stuff from the camara. I managed it eventually by using the touch pad and a different USB slot (but the mouse doesn't use the alternative slot) but any useful suggestions to my private mail (andy.birds (at) gmail.com) would be very much appreciated. And now to the birds.... at least I know a bit about them!

It was a grey morning with a forecast for showers when I met Bob Buckler and a lady client of his from New England (as opposed to Olde England from which Bob and myself hail) and we went into the Guadalhorce reserve across the sand bar and walked along the beach, enjoying the brisk breeze (it was cold!). A pair of Grey Plovers took off and set off for the north, having made themselves heard with that lovely wailing call that speaks of wide and wild open estuaries and let us see their black axillaries before they disappeared from view. I was to later hear another way out over the sea but failed to locaste it.
There were a few Kentish Plovers and 2 Sanderlings with a single Ringed Plover and then we found a small flock of 6 Whimbrels on the beach which then rose to 7 and then built to a total of 11, a big number by our standards. But that number was easily eclipsed when a flock of around 37-38 came in off the sea. I have never seen so many at once, and less so at the Guadalhorce where we are usually limted to 1 or 2 birds, and very occasionally 3. These settled on the lower reaches of the río Viejo and gave us good views until they decided that it was better to be off on their long haul north. Before that we had seen a couple of Gannets way out over the sea, and once we got to the tamarisks by the río Viejo we turned up a Woodchat Shrike, the first of about 5 or 6 in total.
I have already mentioned three spp. of waders but there were others, including the inevitable Stilts, a pair of Avocets, one or two Dunlins - including one already in full summer plumage, 5 or 6 Curlew Sandpipers - one of which was developing its chestnut colouring, 2 Common Sandpipers and a single Wood Sandpiper, another 2 or 3 Ringed Plovers and more Kentish Plovers, as well as a Little Ringed Plover and 4 or 5 noisy Redshanks. So if my maths is correct (which is unlikely) there were 12 species of waders present.
We didn't do too badly for ducks either, especially considering that the water levels are appallingly low, but there appear to be fewer White-headed Ducks, Gadwalls and Pochards than normal although they may have been hiding from the unpleasant wind, there was also a single male Shoveler hiding away and a single Cormorant which hadn't left. It was nice to see a couple of Spoonbills in breeding plumage and there was also a single adult Glossy Ibis and I saw only 1 Grey Heron. The presence of the Glossy Ibis and the 3 I saw a couple of weeks since at the laguna Dulce is of some interest as it looks like there is going to be a major breeding failure in Doñana as the marshes there are drying out rapidly, not that it'll hurt them as the population has exploded in recent years, but it will mean that they will set out to explore for new feeding areas.
There was constant movement of swifts all morning, with at peak moments up to an estimated 2.000 or so birds in views, the majority of them Common with a few Pallids and we saw one Alpine flash through. There were also good numbers of Barn Swallows, the House Martins which are resident one I would think, and one or two Sand Martins. One or two Reed Warblers and Nightingales had obviously decided that singing against the wind was in the same category as throwing snowballs at the moon and we didn't see/hear a single Bee-eater but that same wind didn't deter the pair of Black-headed Weavers at the laguna Escondida from flitting across and back nor prevent the Purple Boghen swimming across in full view instead of having a good skulk.
A remarkably good morning with a count (as always inaccurate) of around 45 spp. which is quite surprising given the unpleasant conditions.

The Cream-coloured Courser that turned up on the scrubby sandy area by the beaxh at Tarifa last Friday is still there, very approachable although I would rather people watched and photographed from a distance and today I heard of a low mentality human who let his dogs loose, one a pointer which promptly tracked down the bird and flushed it. Remember what Clint Eastwood famously said (more or less), 'A 357 magnum can really ruin your day'. I'd ruin more than a few days. Like the Mikado, I have a little list. (Actually not quite so little!)


13-14/04 : Rambla Morales, Las Norias & La Charca de Suárez

I feel that this contribution of Dave's should actually be called 'the great crake hunt', or something similar but it is obvious that is in need of a shot of anti-crake venom. I still have to write up my own yesterday morning trip and shall do that later, all things being equal, with some news from the Strait area.
Bob is on the road to the mend, I'm glad to say, and I fully endorse Dave's comments about this super little reserve as an example to follow. I rather suspect that the good folk of Motril are
Motrileños rather than Dave's suggestion!

Never having seen any sort of crake, I thought I'd take a trip down to La Charca de Suarez, near Motril, dropping in on Morales and Las Norias on the way along the coast road. I left Friday morning and drove through various showers before coming off the E15 at the Cabo de Gata turn. The first bird I saw on the roadside power line was my first migrant Woodchat Shrike. I parked up beyond the campsite and trudged my way towards the lake. There were swarms of low flying Common and Pallid Swifts due to the stiff breeze. I checked for any with white rumps, but only logged numerous House Martins and the odd Red-rumped Swallows. Also saw Barn Swallow and Sand Martin. A singing Nightingale showed itself briefly from some dense thicket. On the water were 27 Greater Flamingos, White Headed Ducks, Common Pochards, Shovelers and Black-necked Grebes. Having an eye out for white-rumped birds, I saw one flying low over the water - a Collared Pratincole. It landed on the beach. Managed to get reasonably close to it before it showed signs of anguish so I retreated back to the car, getting there just before a shower started.
I then headed to Las Norias. Again there were lots of Swifts circling over the first causeway. Also a single Collared Pratincole flew low over the water. There were the usual Red-crested Pochards, White-headed Ducks and Common Pochards on the water. I headed round towards the second causeway. Just prior to reaching it, there is a flooded meadow on the junction. Not only were there Cattle Egrets there, but also a pair of Glossy Ibises, not 5 metres from the road! A quick scan in the smaller pool produced a Squacco Heron, but alas, no Night Heron nor any terns in the area.
I then drove the 100km to Motril and with the help of my Sat Nav got very close to the small reserve called La Charca de Suarez. Getting final directions from a garage I found the narrow entrance. At this time of year it is only open at set times in the evening during weekdays and for a few hours in the morning & evening at weekends, hence me coming down on a Friday so I could get the evening session in followed by the Saturday morning one. (Managed to get room at the Estrella del Mar * Hotel a few hundred metres down the road for €29) After a siesta I was ready at the gate when it opened at 6.30pm.
I recognised Stephen Powell and his wife from Bob and Jenny Wright's 50th Wedding Anniversary party last year. They were allowed straight in as they were regular visitors whilst I was given the welcoming speech by a very pleasant warden. On the way to the first hide I saw a Purple Heron, a pair of Woodchat Shrikes and heard many Cetti's Warblers. In the hide Stephen was still there. They kindly let me tag along with them for which I'm exceedingly grateful. At the next hide, where crakes had been seen, there was a Spanish birder there with his camera. Immediately Stephen indicated movement near a clump of reeds to our right. Sure enough a crake appeared for a second then disappeared again. I got the impression of a Little Crake. This was confirmed by Stephen who checked the Spanish guys photos of the bird he'd taken before we arrived. My first ever crake....well worth the journey! The reserve closed at 8pm. Gave my thanks to Stephen and his wife and the warden and confirmed the opening time in the morning.
I was there ready at 10am and was allowed right in without the speech. The first hide produced Cattle and Little Egret, Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe and loads of Pallid and Common Swifts. Hirundines included Barn Swallow and House and Sand Martin. I soon headed to the "Crake" hide. I spotted movement to the left in reeds by the waters edge. The crake moved right across the front of the hide, over a small clearing of the reeds, giving me a perfect view of my first Baillon's Crake. The photo came out alright despite the shaking hands! A Purple Heron flew in and was eyeing me up from the reeds opposite. As the time for departure loomed, so did rain clouds, but it didn't dampen my enthusiasm for this jewel of a well managed bird reserve. Other Spanish and British reserves could learn much from them. The Motrillions ( Is that their collective noun?) should be very proud!
Heard that Bob Wright has been ill. Hopefully he is on the road to recovery. Gilly and I send our best wishes.


11/04 : Sierra María

Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas Group ventured out en masse (this is foreign meaning a lot together and I only put it in to show off) and had a good morning's birding. The use of the word 'brats' while possibly non PC with regard to their doting and ill-educated parents who are busy passing on the same traits to their brats, is perfectly acceptable as far as I'm concerned (and I can think of worse). There were some of the same at Fuente de Piedra Tuesday morning and I thought in terms of an Heckler & Koch, silenced, with a couple of magazines.
I add my good wishes to Val and Tony and their marathon cycle ride but shall not answer your question, davem be it rhetorical or not. It would be nice to hear how they're going on, what they're seeing and where if that would be at all possible. I would be pleased to publish the news here so their many friends might know what's happening to them.
To boldly go ... (heard that before somewhere), so if you want to pass that on to them, Dave, please feel free to do so.

Also, 4
Orcas were seen from Calaburras 3 days since (male and 3 females) and yesterday a White-tailed Tropicbird claimed from Benjarafe (E of Málaga) but as they can be easily mixed up with Red-billed from underneath, I'm holding fire on the specific identification as I've seen no photos. Plus, for those who live within easyish access to Charca de Suárez, Motril, this is currently the place to go, suitably armed with bundles of patience, for crakes (nasty, creepy, skulking little critters).
Ten members of the group met at the garage cafe in María prior to our birding for the day. Weather was sunny with some clouds, but high winds might be a problem. For a change we first headed down towards the plain. At the derelict farm buildings we had a good first bird, a female Black-eared Wheatear. Also seen was a Black Redstart. On the trees overlooking the water deposit were 4 Crossbills. A passing Hoopoe was seen. I managed to spot a distant Booted Eagle, the first of 3-4 seen during the day. Moving along to the water troughs we found 15 Rock Sparrows sitting on the wire fence waiting to drink. Also watering were Goldfinches, Crested Larks and Linnets.
Slowly driving along the plain straight, we saw a pair of Northern Wheatears, a cracking male Black-eared Wheatear, numerous Calandra Larks, a few Lesser Short-toed Larks and numerous small flocks of Linnets and Goldfinches. At the hamlet there were at least 6 Lesser Kestrels. Some distant Griffon Vultures were also observed.
A coffee stop at La Piza recreation area added a pair of Woodlarks sitting on the goalposts and Crested Tits round the cafe. Crossbills were as usual keeping an eye on us from above.
We were greeted at the Chapel car park by two coaches.....a double dose of school children. Their screams and shouts echoed off the mountain ridge! Unperturbed we checked out round the water trough and BBQ area. At least three Short-toed Treecreepers were seen. Val and Rob saw their first ever Cirl Bunting.
The loud brats...sorry, children, were hanging round the information centre, so we managed to get the botanical garden side of them. We saw Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, but the star was a superb Subalpine Warbler.
Had a great day actually. 33 species seen. Spirits not dampened by kids or winds. Best wishes to Val and Tony. They're heading to France soon AND cycling from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. Are they Insane?
PS. Note that "our" Little Swifts, up to a few days ago, were still being seen at Morales!


10/04 : Fuente de Piedra & Laguna Dulce


A much-needed escape for a morning's birding to take in Fuente de Piedra and the laguna Dulce, starting at Fuente before 10.00. It was painfully obvious that water levels had fallen considerably and Greater Flamingo numbers too, the latter falling from near the 10.000 mark to around 1.200 birds in the week since my last visit - and not a Lesser Flamingo in the place. Any breeding is now thought to be very unlikely and the dry conditions also appear to be affecting not only the reduced number of migrant waders but also the numbers and breeding energies of Little Ringed Plovers and Stilts, although this pair of Avocets (above) weren't going to be put off. I didn't do any real estimates of numbers (there were far too many school children around) and the stints - mostly Little from the ones I could see clearly and the Temminck's continues to skulk around the pond edges on the right as one enters the board walk and the same area still harbours the quite elusive Water Pipit. Redshanks were all over the place, although the Ruffs didn't seem too concerned and included one bird still in its 1st winter plumage (R) and without the bright yellow-orange legs. Even the dorsal colouring is variable once one really starts to look at them. The shot here (L) shows from top to bottom an adult, the aforementioned immature and the smart Wood Sandpiper that's been around for a while, but a Green Sandpiper pushed off rapidly. The wind was getting up by now and a quick stop at the Cantarranas mirador showed only 2 Shelducks, the only ones of the day, out on the lake, as well as an immature Marsh Harrier, very probably a female. Another stop at the end of the lake going across towards the road to Campillos showed the sorry picture of the extent of the flamingo departure (exeunt stage left, flying).
It was jolly windy at the laguna Dulce, the sort of wind that blows through the observation slits - jncidentally the three new observation slits are jolly useful - and peels your eyelids back against your forehead, and that, plus the waves(!) on the laguna made observation difficult. There are still something like 80+ Red-crested Pochards out on the lake and more of the Black-necked Grebes in their splendid breeding plumage, but conditions made photography diffiult and the results were frankly rubbish. The wind made telescope movement difficult at high magnifications but there were certainly 4 Whiskered Terns, 2 adults and 2 which I couldn't decide of they were immatures or unmoulted adults, possibly the latter, plus 3 Black Terns, one still in winter plumage. In the end the conditins beat the clock and I beat a strategic retreat, but not before seeing a distant young adult female Marsh Harrier being given some stick by the ever present Ravens.


06/04 : Charca de Suárez; Fuente de Piedra (2x) & laguna Dulce

It's been a funny old few days, parts very pleasant, one rather unpleasant and, very fortunately, some very nice birding to alleviate things. So let's start.

It was a rather grey morning at Fuente de Piedra last Saturday (31/03) when I met with Simon Papps, commissioning editor of New Holland who are publishing the waterproof pelagic seabird guide which will be out in late July. As Simon was on holiday with his wife and baby daughter at Loja, leaving them too long was not possible but we had a brief walk around and he was able to see a single Lesser Flamingo, 9+ Ruffs, 2 Wood Sandpipers, a single lateish Snipe and 2 lateish Teal, 100+ stints, most of which were probably Little although we saw 1 Temminck's and the Spotted Crake which has been there for ages showed itself briefly.

Still on Saturday, in the late afternoon I received an e-mail and two photos from Stephen Powell who very rightly reported an odd rail-type bird he had seen at the Charca de Suárez by Motril (Granada) and could not identify and which I put out on-line, which was an error on my part. This generated a lot of unpleasant correspondence into which I shall not go but on Sunday (01/04) I went with Steve and Jesús Diez to try and see it. A Nightingale sang as we went in, which augured well, I thought, but I obviously hadn't done the right sacrifice. We didn't see the oddity but did have excellent views of a Squacco Heron, a female Mallard with her flotilla of ducklings and fleeting view of a Spotted Crake. A migrant Sedge Warbler also showed itself a couple of times and allowed us to rule out Moustached which do occur in the area. The final touch was an immature Peregrine which overflew us just as were coming out. Charca de Suárez is a great little reserve and is a credit to Motril town hall and the folks who warden it but has very limited opening times.

On 03/04, Tuesday, I took Ron for a last spin around Fuente de Piedra and then laguna Dulce before he went back to Blighty (I suppose Scarborough's part of Britain unless it's declared unilateral independence along with rest of Yorkshire). The met. cast was not good and skies were grey, lowering and horrible menacing, and they didn't defraud either, although the heaviest rain fell where we weren't. Nevertheless, we had a brilliant morning's birding.
The flooded area around the length of the board walk at Fuente is of great interest to wader watchers, and there are other attractions also. The non-wader attractions included some very attractive Yellow Wagtails, a single Reed Bunting spotted by Ron but which I missed as I was talking to a Finnish birder, and a Water Pipit.

As for waders and leaving aside the hysterical Stilts and the super nervous Redshanks, thanks to what the Germans called Zugunrühe when they did the first migration rersearch back in the 1930s but is better known as migratory restlessness (you can learn all sorts of useless stuff here!). The same could be said of the Little Stints which were quite nervous and kept lifting and then settling for a few minute as before moving again, but its close relative, the only Temminck's we saw (and a very poor photo here R) appeared to be much more placid. Once again, no Green Sandpipers but we estimated 5 Wood Sandpipers and there were certainly 7 Curlew Sandpipers and 9 Ruffs (L above).
On the laguna itself we found 2 Lesser Flamingos, in spite of the vile visibility and light, and which I was able to show to some students from Sleaford, Lincolnshire, plus 9 Shelducks and some Avocets, plus small flocks of stints flying around, but certainly less than there had been on Saturday.
From there we went on to the laguna Dulce, stopping on the way just where one overlooks the west end of Fuente de Piedra but not for the flamingos but for a very brief view of 2 small warblers which we identified as Spectacled and not Whitethroat by the tertial pattern.
The laguna Dulce is an incredible place and I neaver seem to spend enough time there. Hirundines came in in huge numbers whilst we were there, all 5 spp. of them! - Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Sand and Crag Martin, plus 3 spp. of swifts which included a single Alpine.
On the lake there were plenty of Red-crested Pochards, at least 80, some rather nice Black-necked Grebes in breeding plumage and a single breeding plumaged Great Crested, but not a single damned Ferruginous Duck. On the other hand we were rewarded by the appearance of 5 Whiskered Terns, at least 2 of which had not yet obtained breeding plumage. A female Marsh Harrier (R) made an appearance and later an immature, but pride of place must go to the 3 Glossy Ibises we saw for their rarity there, although the immaculate male Hen Harrier was a close runner-up.
And so ended our morning and until we see each other next autumn Ron can live with memories of the 140+ spp. he has seen this winter. I shall miss his company.


04/04 : Las Norias & Roquetas

I was going to write up and put on-line the very pleasing morning that I had on Sunday at La Charca de Suárez and then the morning that Ron and I had yesterday around Fuente de Piedra and the laguna Dulce,. But as today has not been a good one with a lot of little things which precluded getting down to unloading and processing photographs, much less writing something half-way intelligible, I am extremely happy that Dave and company sent in this report, along with photos to enliven it. So, while a heavy of arrival of swifts moving along the coast under grey evening skies is going on, I shall put Dave's report on-line. Mine, which will bea hotch-potch in all probability, will be up by Good Friday afternoon if all goeth according to plan (which is seldom does).and it rains.
It may well have been a Caspian Tern, Dave, as 4 were seen off Calaburras this last week and another at the Guadalhorce. They are very big, Lesser Black-backed Gull size, and dwarf Black-headed Gulls and yes, they will dip the huge bill into the water as they fly into the wind. White-winged Blacks are smaller than Black Terns and they look very white on the upper wing surfaces in comparison with Black and Whiskered Terns.

Reports of strong winds didn't seem to be correct as Colin, Sandra, Val, Chris, Gilly and I parked at the first causeway at Las Norias. The water level was still high. Colin and Chris spotted some overflying Avocets before I could get out of the car. The only other waders seen were 3 Common Sandpipers, a Green Sandpiper and some Black-winged Stilts. Waterbirds consisted of Gadwall, Red Crested Pochards, Mallard and ducklings, Great Crested Grebe, Coot and Moorhen. More interestingly were the terns. Saw a large one flying away from us, skimming the water, occasionally dipping its bill in to pick up, presumably, insects. Is this Caspian Tern behaviour? Also seen were Whiskered Tern together with either a Black Tern or possibly the reported White-Winged (Black) Tern. Unfortunately it fled to the far end of the lake, never to be seen again! Sandra then spotted movement in the reeds quite close to us - a Purple Swamphen. Also seen were a Yellow Wagtail, large flocks of Cattle Egrets and both Black-headed and Yellow Legged Gulls.
We then proceeded to the rear of the lake. As we arrived 7 Night Herons took off from the shrubbery to the right. When Colin, Sandra and Val arrived, they informed us we'd driven past a very photgraphable Squacco Heron.....double drat! Also seen from this point were some Black-necked Grebes.

At the second causeway, we saw another Squacco, White-headed Duck, Shoveler, Pochard and Little Egret. A Marsh Harrier put a huge flock of Cattle Egrets to flight. The Booted Eagle high above us was a bonus. Thank you, Gilly.
We then headed for the Roquetas lake and pool. The predicted winds had now arrived. On the lake we added Greater Flamingo and Lesser Black-backed Gull to the list. We saw a further 3 Marsh Harriers, one female apparently sitting on a nest in the reedline. The star bird though was a male Little Bittern crossing in front of us as we walked (the Spanish ignoring the "Authorised Vehicles only" sign) towards the Red-knobbed Coot pool. Hopefully their absence is down to the fact they were in the reeds nesting.
44 species for the day, not including the unidentified terns. Another good days birding.


01/04 : Lesser Moorhen -- to be or not to be?

Late yesterday afternooon (31/03) I received an e-mail from Stephen Powell who lives in Frigiliana (Málaga) along with two photos (shown here by kind permission of Steve) and along with them the challenge to identify the bird.

The photographs had been taken that self-same afternoon at the Charca de Suárez, Motril (Granada) which is a very neat little peri-urban reserve and just made for rails and such like species. Steve, like me, hadn't much of an idea what it was (and bear in mind he'd seen and photographed both Spotted and Baillon's Crakes there that same afternoon.
It was about the same size as the other two species, he described it as a large starling size to me this morning, and its movements were typically rail-like and typically skulking, giving only very brief views. The conclusion that he had come to, not unnaturally, I think, was that it was a Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata.
I put the photos out on fororoa and also sent them to selected friends who could be relied upon to spread the news. Reactions varied from 'it's only a Moorhen', one offering that it was a second
year bird, through to others which were firmly in favour of it being the species claimed.

So this morning, and thanks to the help of Jesús Diez with directions, I set off on the 120+km run for Motril, met Jesús and also Steve who had ventured down from his mountain. Of course, a Sunday morning is not the best time and day of the week to go birding and although we did see a Spotted Crake, nothing resembling this bird as there was too much in the way of noise. I was at least able to question Steve, which in fairness was when the information about the starling-like size came out.
Also, by the simple expedient of asking around, Señorita Pilar Muñoz, a young lady who obviously knew more about crakes than I, volunteered the information that she had seen it on Saturday morning and described it as being about the size of a Spotted Crake, ashy grey on head, neck and mantle with a bluish tinge, a dark underbody and white under the tail. Good, corroborative information. She was sure it was a crake of some sort but had no idea what.

All of these details can be seen on Steve's two shots so there, My Lords, I rest the case. And you, dear reader, having read the evidence and seen the photos and the details therein, can decide for yourselves.
Was it? Wasn't it? And if not, why not? All answers written on high denomination bank notes will be published.
Or is it another of those odd things that birding throws up from time to time and for which there is never a satisfactory solution.
I should add that I believe that the odds are in favour of it being one, probably an immature bird from the bill colouration, but insufficient for an acceptance by the Spanish Rarities Committee (to whom I shall be sending a Spanish version of this).

NOTE: To 'anonymous', if you had put your name to your comment, I would have published it. I think that I and readers have a right to know who is sending the comment. All please note.